Primare CD31 CD player Page 2

The impression I had from early, casual listening was that the Primare lacked focus, but after listening to a series of natural recordings made in venues of different size, I concluded that its focus was just fine. Individual instruments in an orchestra, or images of a vocalist on a stage, weren't at all blurred or indistinct. What I was hearing was the absence of the razor-sharp edge definition and stark spaces that can be so spectacular in small doses. One great example of how the CD31 combined detail and coherence occurs at the opening of "Pancho and Lefty." Townes Van Zandt's guitar begins, someone in the audience claps, Van Zandt begins to sing, and then applause erupts more widely. Each successive component had the presence and dimensionality to solidly pop into the three-dimensional space, but each was itself a cohesive image, and all merged perfectly into the single surrounding space.

When I looked back through my review of the D30.2 and my listening notes from that period, I found that much of what I wrote applies to the CD31 as well. The "clarity and openness to the D30.2's sound that made other players sound overstated or forced in comparison" was equally present in the CD31. Both had "a natural ease, and a beguiling sweetness through the midrange," though these extended further toward the frequency extremes with the CD31. My description of the D30.2 as "pure and natural," with excellent transparency, clarity, and low distortion, applies equally to the CD31. On the other hand, the new player didn't have the D30.2's softened upper midrange or slightly recessed soundstage.

My take on the CD31's dynamic performance was also similar to what I'd heard with the D30.2—lively and quick but with slightly softened dynamic transients, and lacking the transient precision of the very best cost-no-object players. I suspect that the CD31 was noticeably faster and more dynamic than its predecessor, but it still softened the fastest transients. The CD31's bottom end was powerful and articulate, with excellent pitch definition. Orchestras were solidly grounded and floated realistically above the low-frequency foundation—but I wouldn't describe the CD31's bass performance as "seismic" or "window-rattling," as I did its predecessor's. One caveat is that the D30.2 was in a system driving Thiel CS6 speakers sitting on a suspended wood floor; my current setup uses Wilson Audio Sophia 2s on concrete.

What the CD31 did do that the D30.2 never quite managed was cross the line from being very good to being truly sublime. This realization hit me one morning as the CD31 was spinning the Warren Zevon tribute album, Enjoy Every Sandwich (Artemis ATM-CD-51581). Listening to Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt's cover of "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," I found myself completely drawn into the music, and captivated by Browne's voice. It had an uncanny palpability and richness of detail, and an electric presence that was simultaneously natural and unforced. A light bulb lit up over my head—the CD31 was combining the subtleties and nuances of Browne's voice in exactly the right way to let me hear through the recording, to experience the feeling and emotion of the performance.

As I absorbed this realization, I remembered Browne's album of a few years ago, The Naked Ride Home, which I recalled as sounding pretty ordinary, with nowhere near this kind of presence. I popped it into the CD31, hit Play, and it was apparent within the first few notes that here, too, I was experiencing a kind of open window on and direct connection to the original performance. A few hours later, I looked at my forgotten list of the day's chores and scribbled in my notes that the Primare CD31 had "that little extra something that makes me ignore the world and remain in the listening room." The CD31's performance was beyond "good," "very good," "really good for the money," or even "excellent"—it was sublime.

The connection I felt with the Jackson Browne performances was re-created over and over in the next several weeks, as I worked through a variety of recordings. The CD31 didn't create a sense of realism where there was none, and never imbued the sound with any sort of hi-fi hyper-reality. Indifferent recordings usually sounded boring and bad ones often unlistenable, but with well-done recordings of any scale, the CD31 was magic. I could easily have been convinced that I was listening to some over-the-top, multi-box system instead of an unimposing $2295 integrated player. In fact, most of my guests did assume that they were listening to one of the my more spectacular players—or even a record—rather than the Primare. Every one of those visitors immediately sat down and began requesting favorite discs.

Summing up
Primare's CD31 isn't a perfect CD player. It's not absolutely neutral, instead superimposing a slightly warm, slightly soft character on the sound. Nor is it completely transparent. It doesn't totally "vanish," as do such components as the VTL TL-7.5 line stage or the Halcro dm88 amplifiers. The CD31 "disappears" in a different way, conjuring up an open window on the original performance. It combines detail resolution, timing, harmonic structure—all of the components we use to describe a component's sound—in a mix in which subtleties and nuances are reproduced in just the right way. The CD31's reasonable price is almost irrelevant in light of its performance, but profound in that it makes that performance available to many more people than is usually the case. The CD31 isn't perfect—but it's sublime.

Primare Systems
US distributor: Sumiko
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 843-4500